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Agencies That Develop Standards

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Established in 1897, the NFPA’s stated mission is to “reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training and education.” The NFpA establishes standards for life safety that are incorporated into all building codes, as well as developing its own stand-alone life safety code.

American National Standards Institute (ANSI) This institute is a private not-for-profit organization established in 1918.

It “promotes and facilitates voluntary consensus standards and conformity assessment systems.” The American National Standards Institute approves and organizes the standards developed by other organizations, developing standards when an industry group or government agency commissions the organization to do so. The institute is the U.S. representative to the International Organization for Standardization.

American Society of Testing and Materials International (ASTM International) The ASTM was founded in 1898 as an organization that writes standards, but does not test or certify products. It develops and delivers international voluntary consensus standards. Among the categories of standards written by ASTM International are newly developed sustainable design standards.

Underwriters’ Laboratory (UL) Underwriters’ Laboratory is an agency that has tested and approved products since 1894. It tests hundreds of products in construction, building materials, systems, and assemblies to protect occupants from fire and life safety hazBuilding codes base most of their requirements on an established set of standards, voluntary testing procedures that determine whether a product or material is compliant. Standards are not regulations, and testing is voluntary. However, when standards are incorporated into a building code, materials or products that are specified or assemblies that are designed must meet the pertinent standard. INTERIOR FINISH MATERIALS AND FIRE

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Building codes are not limited to regulations related to preventing the loss of life in fires, but it was disasters such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City in 1913 (145 young women died) and the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in Boston in 1942 in which 492 people died that led to stronger fire and life safety codes. The goal is to construct buildings using methods and materials that help prevent fires from starting. If a fire starts, the strategy is to ensure early detection (such as from fire alarms) and suppression (such as from extinguishers or sprinklers) and/or to contain the fire long enough for occupants to evacuate, as well as to allow firefighters enough time to bring in equipment and fight the fire. Many building materials and finish materials will burn, and some finishes, such as flammable coatings, can actually start fires. Once started, combustible materials can serve as fuel, feeding the fire and allowing the flame to spread. Smoke is often more dangerous to occupants than flames, obstructing vision in addition to causing injuries from smoke inhalation. In addition, some finish materials emit toxic fumes when they burn. Thus, the key is confining the fire to the location in which it starts, while providing a safe path of exit for the occupants. Finish materials must not contribute to the spread of fire or allow flashover from one burning material to another flammable material.

As determined by the use and construction type of a building, means of egress (exits, exit access corridors, and doors and windows as components of exitways) must be designed and built to provide barriers to smoke and flame. This involves designing floors, walls, and ceilings as assemblies of components that are rated based on the length of time they can resist fire. Ductwork and other penetrations must have fire stops and dampers. Finishes must pass tests to ensure that they resist flames and will not contribute to the development of smoke. The priority in a fire is to evacuate occupants before the building burns. Thus, corridor assemblies are rated by the time that they will withstand smoke and flame, usually one or two hours. Interior designers not only have to understand the methods required for the rated construction assemblies but also the flammability of finish materials applied to the surface of walls, floors, and ceilings, as well as window treatments, furniture, applied trim, and other potentially flammable objects in a space.

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